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Article Summary

What Your Child Needs to Know about Drugs

Legal or illegal, drugs are a fact of life. While many parents would rather their children knew nothing about them, drug education is a vital part of keeping your child drug-free.


At this early age, children are eager to know and memorize rules. They want to know the rules, and they want your opinion on what's "bad" and what's "good." Although they are old enough to understand that smoking is bad for them, they are not ready to take in complex facts about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

Kindergarten through 3rd Grade

Now is the time to begin explaining what alcohol, tobacco, and drugs are. You should tell them that some people use them even though they are harmful, and explain the consequences of using them.

  • Discuss how anything that is not food or prescribed by the doctor can be extremely harmful.
  • Tell them that drugs interfere with the way our bodies work, can make a person very sick, or even cause them to die.
  • Explain the idea of addiction-that drug use can become a very bad habit that is hard to stop.

Grades Four through Six

By the time children leave elementary school, they should know:

  • The immediate effects of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs on different parts of the body. This includes risks of coma or fatal overdose
  • The long-term results of addiction and the loss of control over their lives that users experience
  • The reasons why drugs are especially dangerous for growing bodies
  • The problems that alcohol and other illegal drugs cause not only to the user, but also to the user's family and world

Grades Seven through Nine

Adolescence is often a confusing and stressful time, characterized by mood changes and deep insecurity, as teens struggle to figure out whom they are and how to fit in, while establishing their own identities. Parents may not realize that their young teens feel surrounded by drug use. Nearly 9 out of 10 teens agree "it seems like marijuana is everywhere these days." Teens are twice as likely to be using marijuana as parents believe they are, and teens are getting high in the places that parents think are safe havens, such as around school, at home, and at friend's houses.
Parents profoundly shape the choices their children make about drugs.
Teens need to know the immediate and distasteful consequences of tobacco and marijuana use. For example, they need to know that smoking causes bad breath and stained teeth and makes clothes and hair smell. As a parent you should discuss drug's long-term effects:

  • The lack of crucial social and emotional skills ordinarily learned during adolescence
  • The risk of lung cancer and emphysema from smoking
  • Fatal or crippling car accidents and liver damage from heavy drinking
  • Addiction, brain damage, memory loss, coma, and death

Grades Ten through Twelve

To resist peer pressure, teens need more than a general message not to use drugs. They need to hear from a parent that anyone can become a chronic user or an addict and that even non-addicted use can have serious permanent consequences.
Most high school students are future-oriented so they are more likely to listen to discussions of how drugs can ruin chances of getting into a good college or being hired for a job.

Also, many children and teens are under the impression that there is a difference between illegal drugs and OTC, prescription drugs. Let them know that a drug is simply anything that changes normal body function, and all drugs have benefits to them, and side effects. The reason that illegal drugs are illegal is because they have potential for abuse. OTC drugs have a low potential for abuse, and that is why anybody that is at least eighteen can buy them. Prescription drugs need to have doctor's approval before using. This is because they have some potential for abuse, and it is illegal to take them without a doctor's prescription. Illegal drugs have no accepted medical use, and they are damaging (most of them) to the body and can be addictive. Many illegal drugs have medical use, such as amphetamines (speed, crystal, crank). Dextroamphetamine and Methamphetamine (crystal meth) are used for ADHD, narcolepsy, and obesity.

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